The Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul ran a printing operation in Kingston for over 90 years and turned it into a museum after closing it in 1989. Photo courtesy Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul Archives

Sisters of Providence closing doors on its Printing Room museum

By 
  • August 12, 2019

A little piece of history at Providence Manor is closing its doors for the last time in Kingston, Ont.

The Printing Room, a museum highlighting the print operations that the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul ran for nearly a century before ceasing operations in 1989, is closing in early September. It is located in the basement of the chapel at Providence Manor, a long-term care home run by Providence Care.

Providence Manor will be relocating in the next few years to the Providence Motherhouse grounds as part of the sisters’ Providence Village. 

A final open house for the museum is being held Aug. 22 to give people a last chance to see the Printing Room.

“There are still many people who don’t know it exists and people are always fascinated when they see it,” said Veronica Stienburg, archivist for the Sisters of Providence in Kingston. “Sometimes I encounter people who had their wedding invitations printed there years ago and they are always happy to see the museum. It is a lesser known ministry of the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul and I would like everyone who wants to see it to have the chance before it is dismantled and the equipment donated to Carleton University.” 

The Sisters of Providence established the print shop in 1898, said Stienburg, and operated it in Providence Manor (historically known as the House of Providence). Sisters were active in its operation until at least 1969, said Stienburg. Sr. Phyllis Genore was the last sister to be employed there, having worked since 1937 with a one-year break in the early 1950s. She died in 1990, said Stienburg.

“The current sisters do not have a lot of memories of the Printing Room as an active ministry,” said Stienburg. “Those who did live at Providence Manor/House of Providence while it was active were involved in other ministries.” 

The sisters produced congregational material such as circulars, obituary notices, periodicals and small books to start, with the first project off the line in 1899 being a selection of  “Monthly Meditations” for the community. Later the office began working for outside companies, printing material like dental charts, job application forms, menus, stationary, invitations and business cards. The Sisters also printed two magazines there, The Guardian magazine for children from 1916 to the late 1950s and The Canadian League magazine for the Catholic Women’s League. Money earned from the operation helped the Sisters’ work with the poor, orphaned and aged.

At first, the sisters operated the Printing Room by themselves but eventually had laymen assisting. It was run for its final 20 years by Stephen Haughian, who began working there in the 1960s.

After it closed, it sat idle for 10 years before it was turned into a museum, which has operated under the archivist for the past 20 years.

“Its closing is not surprising as all the sisters are aware that Providence Manor will be relocating,” said Stienburg.

The Printing Room’s legacy will live on, however. Much of the equipment, tools and furniture has been donated to Carleton University in Ottawa where the library and English department are establishing a Book Arts Laboratory, an experiential learning lab for students. Some of the equipment will move to the sisters’ Heritage Room at the motherhouse.

“This was the perfect opportunity for the congregation to pass on their printing legacy, where the craft of printing will be actively taught to students, and the sisters’ printing history will be preserved through Carleton’s use of the equipment and tools, in exhibitions and their archives, as well as in our own archives,” said Stienburg.

The museum was never a huge draw and has only been open by appointment. There have been numerous tours over the years, however, and the sisters opened it for Doors Open Kingston in 2013 which attracted about 350 visitors. Whenever its doors opened, said Stienburg, people were introduced to “a real gem, as it is sort of like a time capsule.”

“It’s an unusual museum in that the museum is in the same location as the active print shop, so the printing presses are still in their original locations,” she said. “When the printing office was closed in 1989 everything was left, including all the type, tools, old ink containers. Going into the museum is a little bit like stepping back in time.”

NOTE: This story was updated to clarify the status of Providence Manor, which is not closing but rather moving to Providence Village.

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